"Practice Yoga. Meditate seriously. You will cross this ocean of darkness and ignorance and reach the Light and Life -- everlasting." - Swami Sivananda
Reconciling Yoga Practice and Religious Beliefs
Q&A with Swami Swaroopananda
Swami Swaroopananda is the Acharya (spiritual director) of Sivananda Yoga Centers and Ashrams in the West Coast of the United States, the Middle East, and the Bahamas, and is one of the foremost disciples of Swami Vishnudevananda. He is renowned for his spontaneous yet clear, concise, and complete answers to every question. This Q&A is from June 2010 at the Sivananda Center in Los Angeles.
Q: How can people bring their yoga experience into their religious experience? That is, Christianity, Judaism, etc?
A: Yoga, as a rule, deals with universal principles so it's very easy to bring it into religious experience. For example, the health of our physical body is neither Christian nor Jewish, nor native, nor atheist. You see, the physical body follows its own principles, and to bring real health to the physical body is not in conflict with any religion. On the contrary, it supports religious practice. This is the first of Swami Vishnudevananda's five principles of yoga - Proper Exercise - and proper exercise is definitely not in conflict with any religion.
Swami Vishnu's next principle is Proper Breathing. Breath is universal, and the yogis focus on it. We don't find any conflict there, either. It's doesn't matter to which religion you belong or whether you are an atheist, proper breathing is very healthy for you and is very good for a peaceful mind.
Then comes Proper Relaxation. There is no doubt that proper relaxation is healthy and beneficial for the practitioner of any religion. In yoga we learn how to practice proper relaxation, how to remove stress.
Then, Proper Diet. I don't have to explain that our physical body consists of the food that we eat. But it doesn't affect just the physical body. The yogis of old said that the food we eat also affects our mind. And today this is a recognized fact. For example, we know that eating refined sugar may affect hyperactive children. Children who are hyperactive may be very much affected by sugar, colors in foods, and so on. So we do know this. We have a good idea nowadays within Western science that food can also affect the mind, not just the physical body. In yoga we say that food also affects the spirit. For example, we know in religions that during certain periods we fast. Why do we fast? Because food has an effect not just on the physical body, and not just on the mind, but food also has an effect on the spirit. So refraining from food is another way of eating. In yoga we say fasting is a form of eating. It's a spiritual form of eating. We don't speak about fasting just for the purpose of health; we speak about fasting as a method of spiritual evolution.
To read the rest of Swami Swaroopananda's answer, click here
"Unity in Diversity" Programs
This year we are offering several programs that celebrate the commonality of all spiritual paths:
Christmas and New Year Symposium and Celebration -- Unity in Diversity: The Paths are Many, the Truth is One December 22-January 1, 2011
On the Wings of Ecstasy: Interfaith Devotional Singing and Sacred Dance Festival January 13-19, 2011
Meditation as a Path to Enlightenment: An Interfaith Symposium March 20-25, 2011
"He would make everything joyous"
Rabbi Joseph Gelberman left his body on September 9th at 98 years of age. He was an embodiment of the Unity in Diversity principle. A rabbi and a yogi, he came to know Swami Vishnudevananda in the early days in New York City, before Swamiji started in Montreal. Rabbi Gelberman dedicated his life to building bridges between religions and promoting love and harmony among people of different faiths. He has been a regular presenter in this ashram's annual Unity in Diversity symposium at Christmas and was scheduled to participate in the upcoming one as well. He was an embodiment of joy and humor who woke up each morning declaring with joy, "I'm alive!"
"When he started to do yoga with Swamiji," says Sita Chaitanya, "he was a little bit chubby and he wasn't good at the headstand. Each time when there was something going on, Swamiji would make Rabbi demonstrate the headstand. He didn't feel good about it and one day, after one of these times, he came to Swamiji and said, 'Swamiji why are you doing this to me? Why?' So Swamiji said 'What?' And he said, 'Why do you put me on the head, I am so bad at it?' And Swamiji was laughing and saying, 'But you are teaching them.' And Rabbi said, 'What do you mean . . . what am I teaching them?' So Swamiji told him, 'You are teaching them how not to do it.' This is a story that Rabbi Gelberman would always tell.
"He would always come up to you with a new inspiration, new ideas, new initiatives," Sita says. "Always with a lot of of laughter. He would make everything joyous, everything was a way to learn something, a way to bring more wisdom into the situation. He was full of life and had so much love for people. It didn't matter who was around, they melted."
Perhaps you, too, remember Rabbi Gelberman telling stories and teaching: "If God were to give the Ten Commandments today, he would add an Eleventh Commandment: 'Thou shalt have purpose.' Our problem in life is that we don't realize why we are here. We know we have parents and they decided to have a child and here I am. But what is my purpose in life? The purpose in our life is for everybody . . . God created us to help Him make this world a better place, and He can't do it by himself. We are God's partners. That's why He created us."
Or: "People ask me now, 'How do you feel?' I used to say 'Fine' because I didn't want to be involved. But then I realized that saying fine is not the truth. I'm not fine. As a matter of fact, nobody is fine, forever. We always have problems. So I finally decided, when people ask me, 'How do you feel, Rabbi?' I simply tell them, 'I'm alive!'
Click here if you would like to read more about Rabbi Gelberman, or to leave a tribute or share a memory.
Learning Ayurveda by Living Ayurveda
The Well Being Center at the Yoga Retreat, in addition to offering Ayurvedic treatments, therapeutic massage, Thai massage and Yoga Therapy, provides numerous opportunities to learn more about Ayurveda, the ancient "science of life," through hands-on practice and experience. "Ayurveda and Yoga are sister sciences that together are the original holistic system of care for the body, mind and spirit," says Lalita Devi, head of the center. "Ayurveda supports yogic practices."
This season, starting in December with the transformational Ayurveda Body Treatment Certification Course, the Well Being Center will present a series of practical courses that will give students the opportunity to learn through giving, and through receiving:
Ayurveda Body Treatment Certification Course - December 4-12, 2010
Lalita Devi will be teaching the Ayurveda Body Treatment Course (Abhyanga, Shirodhara and Nasya) again this year. The course is open to everyone, and is especially valuable for massage therapists, Ayurveda practitioners and other healthcare professionals. Students learn to do the treatments as spiritual practice for both client and practitioner. Past graduates have said of the course: "far exceeded my expectations," "life transforming," "I came away with deeper self understanding," "I love doing the treatments!" Registration is limited to 10 participants, so register soon.
Ayurveda and Yoga Wellness Advisor Certification Course - February 11-28, 2011
Lalita Devi, Isvari and the WBC staff again will teach a 10-day course leading to a certificate as an Ayurveda and Yoga Wellness Advisor. We will cover Ayurveda theory and practices, including nutrition. We will also teach how Ayurveda principles can be applied to Yoga therapy. The course will give Yoga teachers, Ayurveda practitioners and health care professionals an opportunity to deepen their knowledge of Yoga and Ayurveda to find balance for themselves and learn how to advise their student/clients to find balance. We see this course as a way to self knowledge and transformation while adding to your professional knowledge base. The course, however, is open to everyone who would like to learn more about Yoga and Ayurveda. The favorite quote from this course is, "After all my years of study, I finally get what Ayurveda is about."
Ayurvedic Nutrition Advisor Certification Course - March 19-26, 2011
Lalita Devi will teach the principles of Ayurveda and Isvari will then focus on ayurvedic nutrition. The course will examine the ayurvedic nutrition concepts of the six tastes (Rasa), the digestive effect (Virya) and the post digestive effect (Vipaka) of all food. Learn how these concepts are applied for your imbalance and/or constitution allowing us to come back into balance and maintain that balance. There will be a hands-on cooking workshop to learn some basic recipes. This course is open to all and ideal for yoga teachers and healthcare professionals.
Other Ayurveda Certification Courses
Yoga of Recovery with Durga - January 13-19, 2011
Yoga of Recovery Certification Course for Counselors - January 21-30, 2011
Bringing Yoga and Ayurveda into Psychotherapy and Counseling - Joann Lutz and Lalita Devi - March 13-19, 2011
Ayurvedic Yoga Therapy - Mark Halpern - April 18-27, 2011
Ayurveda Guest Programs
Introduction to Ayurveda: Ancient Yogic Medicine for Healing Body and Mind - Mark Halpern and the California College of Ayurveda senior staff - ongoing programs
The Psychology and Physiology of Permanent Weight Loss through Ayurveda - John Douillard - April 1-3, 2011
For more information, go to sivananda.org/nassau/, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org